Have you ever thought of switching your traditional, office-based work model for a location independent model?
You might worry that changing the way your business works is a huge challenge, especially when you can’t even be sure it will work.
How can you determine if your team working anywhere might be a viable model for your business, while maintaining your current processes and productivity? The answer is breaking down the substantial task of reorienting your in-office working model into bite-size chunks.
Trialling distributed work first before fully committing is the best way to understand the both the benefits and challenges of the distributed work model.
WHY TRIAL ‘ANYWHERE WORK’?
It’s worth noting that even if, after trialling distributed work, you find that it doesn’t fit your business, then you will still have learned valuable lessons about how your team works together and how your business operates.
Recently, we talked to Aleyda Solis, owner of location independent company Orainti, about the benefits of trying remote work, even on a small scale.
She says that locating your business in one place can actually cover up issues within your organisation. Going remote can make these issues much more evident, which, paradoxically, is a good thing. Understanding is the first step towards improving; distributed work requires you to confront the disfunction in your business.
Aleyda points out that trialling distributed work will give you the opportunity to “sort any issues you have in your company, so that everything functions correctly when moving remote.”
If, after trialling remote work, you find it’s not for you, then, at the very least, you may find that any internal issues that you had before have been resolved.
There’s little downside in trialling a work anywhere model, so we now move on to practicalities of experimenting with a new way of structuring your team’s work.
Therefore, when trialling distributed work, you’ll need to think about how to support your team to develop the skills needed to help them work successfully. What skills should you help develop? Every company is different, but an effective Anywhere team has these traits:
Strong communication skills
Anywhere workers don’t necessarily have the readily available cushion of social support that comes with going into a busy office every day.
An Anywhere team needs to communicate proactively; reaching out to each other and maintaining the flow of information. The team needs people with strong interpersonal skills.
Why is a culture of sociability so important in distributed teams? Loneliness and isolation can lead to low morale and, consequently, the team’s work will suffer.
If your team members have an effective support network and a healthy work-life balance then they are more likely to switch off and less likely to burnout. A burnt out team is a less productive and less happy one.
Independent, empowered people :
You need independent, self-starters in your Anywhere team. People who don’t need to be micromanaged to get things done, and who are empowered to make decisions.
When working Anywhere, people need to rely on themselves to meet deadlines, not on their bosses breathing down their necks.
2)Institute a phased roll-out of your Anywhere model
START WITH A SMALL TEAM
Becoming truly ‘location independent’ is easier for smaller companies who are able to make substantial changes to their business processes without grinding to a halt. Smaller businesses are more nimble by nature.
However, for larger companies, it’s a bit harder.
Jacob Morgan, an expert on the future of work, suggests that “larger companies take a phased approach to implementing flexible work across the company.”
When trialling remote work, start with a small team and withpeople who will likely find the transition easier.
Why a small team? Larger teams might have to contend with a bigger range of time differences. Larger teams also have to coordinate projects around more people, which is harder.
Additionally, starting with a small team will enable your company to focus on ‘getting everything right’ on a smaller scale before shifting more teams to a distributed working structure.
If all goes well in your small team, start to test remote work with other agile groups in your organisation.
You could always use the original ‘trial team’ to mentor and support those who may not find the transition as easy.
TIME IN THE OFFICE: TWO IN, THREE OUT
We ran a remote-work experiment a few years ago. The experiment was for those who were more comfortable staying in-office throughout the week.
These employees were challenged to working two days in office and three days out of office over a period of a few weeks.
We liked the results so much that we now have just one in-office day a week.
How could these results apply to your own business? Consider the ‘two in, three out approach’ when trialling remote work with your pilot team.
Taking the leap from being in an office five days a week to being away from an office all week is not easy.
Gradually ease your team into distributed work; from one day of Anywhere work, build up to four or five days.
Listen to your team. Ask them about the challenges at each stage of the your ‘work anywhere’ transition and improve your distributed model accordingly. This way, the transition for the rest of your company will be a lot easier; not every team will have to learn each lesson themselves.
‘Anywhere’ work space: optional co-working space for Unsplash (Montreal, Canada)
3) Trial and refine a remote employee onboarding process
When trialling Anywhere work with your pilot team you need to consider what is needed for a smooth, company-wide transition to remote work.
What information needs to be given to new remoters? What initial processes need to be carried out?
Test your answers to these questions with your pilot team. Identify what went well and what didn’t at the beginning of the remote trial period. Then, refine the onboarding process for team members accordingly.
But what should your ‘Anywhere’ onboarding process look like?
For some remote companies, not having a company hub or a co-working space can be detrimental. This is because your working space can portray your identity.
Recently, we interviewed the CEO of Headless Horse, a creative agency. He highlighted that having an office can be beneficial as it allows clients to come and see a home-base that is “reflective of the brand”.
Additionally, he points out that having a ‘company hub’ allows employees to feel as though they have a place that they could go to- to socialise and to collaborate.
“It’s a base. If one person were travelling or based in America, then so be it. It would be nice to have somewhere to come home to visit…It’s good to bounce off ideas in person. Moreover, Taylor Coil, the marketing manager for remote company, Tortuga Backpacks, suggests that having a company ‘base’ can allow employees to feel happier and ‘rooted’. Shes says:
“When you don’t truly feel like you have a home, you can feel a bit listless in life. [When I was travelling and working].. it felt very much felt like I was drifting and I didn’t want to feel that way. I wanted to feel rooted in some kind of routine, I suppose.” Having a company ‘base’ is not a new concept.
Royalty free photo platform, Unsplash, apply this approach. Their community manager, Annie Spratt explains: “Just over half of the team work in Montreal [office] and although they all tend to work there, they come and go at times to suit them…I like that unless you are meeting someone, there is never that expectation to be in the office” Clearly, there are remote companies that benefit from having collaborative hubs as they make for a happier and more productive workforce. When trialling Anywhere work, try testing the use of a small ‘hub’ space with your pilot team. Identify whether, on this smaller scale, it benefits your pilot team before committing to going fully distributed.
When trialling remote work, practice giving feedback to your pilot team. Suzannah Weiss, a freelance writer who works Anywhere, highlights the need to gain frequent feedback from those she is liaising with.
She mainly communicates mainly via messaging platforms. This, she says, can make it hard to judge how happy her clients are:
This anxiety can manifest itself as imposter syndrome in remote work, where imposters feel chronic self-doubt over their work performance.
In a 2017 United Nations report “41 percent of remote workers report high-stress levels, compared to just 25 percent of office workers”. Undoubtedly, the more stressed employees are, the more unhappy they are. And the more unhappy they are, the more unproductive they are. Use your time trialling remote work to practice giving frequent visual, video-based feedback to your pilot team to avoid this negative cycle. You must develop management processes to ease the anxieties of your pilot team, and then your whole business.
When trialling remote work, test how much communication is needed on a daily basis within your pilot team.
This way, when your company does go fully remote, there are guidelines in place to prevent employee isolation and to ensure that team members are aware of peer activity. Typical communication guidelines might include the following:
Give at least two work updates a day, so people now what you’re working on
Carry out at least two video calls a day, to stay in touch with colleagues and, perhaps, meet new people
Undoubtedly, retreats also show that companies value the contribution and the needs of their staff. This is why they’re so effective in building positive remote work cultures.
You need to consider how you will foster an effective, supportive, and meaningful culture in your company when people might not see each other every day.
Use your trial period to test the logistics of how company retreats would work on a small scale (i.e. with your pilot team). What works and what doesn’t? This way, there will be less hassle when scaling events to include larger team retreats.
B) Trialling informal communication Sending emails may be the norm for traditional, office-based companies but if you are considering switching to an Anywhere model of work, sending emails can hold you back.
Why? Sending emails can be a disjointed, slow and overly-formal process. What’s the alternative? Informal, instant messaging. Modern instant messaging (IM) apps, like AnywhereWorks, enable real-time communication. This saves time and increases staff productivity. The CEO of Headless Horse, who works flexibly, agrees:
Instant collaboration platforms can also build a positive remote work culture by creating a sense of unity and equality by eliminating the email-hierarchy that comes with traditional salutations and formal sign-offs.
Consider testing work messaging platforms during your trial period and assess how instant messaging effects work culture.
Your company could trial remote work and could pick the ‘right’ team for Anywhere working but it won’t survive the transition to remote work unless you have the right supportive tools in place.
If you are unsure of what tools you need when working virtually, here are some suggestions: – Google Drive: Google Drive allows team members to share and collaborate on documents together. – Trello: Trello is a project management-based system. –AnywhereWorks: AnywhereWorks is a team-collaboration platform. –AnywhereTools: AnywhereTools is a collection of virtual tools that will help your team work remotely. –WorldTimeBuddy: WorldTimeBuddy keeps track of the time differences between your distributed employees so that you can organise meetings with ease. –YoCoBoard : YocoBoard is time tracking software that logs the hours that you and your team work. –CloudApp: CloudApp allows you to share videos, screenshots and images with others.
Coordinating video calls can be tricky when your pilot team is spread across the world, and even trickier when your whole company has shifted to Anywhere work. Use your trial period as an opportunity to make the video-call process more efficient before going fully remote.
Here, are a couple of potential strategies for making video-calls stress free: Strategy A) If your pilot team is large, split it into smaller agile groups for video calls Annie Spratt, Community Manager for Unsplash, has discussed the challenges of coordinating video calls: “I know that in the past when we had huge team meetings, we would have people in 6 different time zones. This would mean that there would always be one person joining the video call at 1 am in the morning.
”In the end, her company resolved this issue by splitting the whole company team into smaller, agile ‘video-call’ groups. This way, the company found that time-zones clashed less:
“Now, as we have grown, we have split down into smaller teams with 2 or 3 people, which makes video calls a lot easier.” Strategy B) Share the burden of 24/7 To make cross-continental communication fair, LI company and global furniture provider Steelcase came up with a strategy of “sharing the burden of 24/7 across the team
This strategy involved creating a rotating meeting schedule for the team.